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Sunday Morning Reading Material Second Sunday in November 2012- Let America be America Again Edition

The 2012 Elections are over. The side of goodness and light- or at least less-badness and more-brightness- won. There has been a weird contradiction in the core of American social thought- and this election was a strong blow against that contradiction. America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. America has been the land of slavery, and a home for those too scared to confront privilege. We have an entire party which likes to remind people that “We’re a ‘republic’, not a ‘democracy'”. yet this election saw a stunning blow in favor of democracy.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

The establishment- those who cowardly revel in unfreedom- knew that in a straight-up contest, they would lose. They understood that the the composition of America had changed, and sought to ensure that the composition of the voting public would be what it had been in previous generations. They lost anyway.

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

The real irony of the 2012 election is how conservative it was, how much the political philosophy was fairly banal in the annals of American social thought. There wasn’t a revolution in terms of things done or undone, but rather in terms of those who will be allowed to participate- in terms of who gets to be America.

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

The American Right has been screaming about “voter fraud” for the last several election cycles. They have used this idea that certain Americans have been voting more than once to create the laws which would have kept themselves in power. Two Americans attempted to empirically test this assumption that it was easy to vote more than once. they went to jail.

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

Until I read this, I had no idea that anyone took Donald Trump seriously. He’s an old man who gets his kicks by firing people. I suppose that the Republican nominee had also expressed his eagerness to fire people, and so it makes sense that two such similar personalities would appeal to the same groups of people- and would clash mightily.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

After 108 years, this lady is Free at Last. Thank god almighty.

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

It may look like shameful joy to watch Karl Rove scramble to prove his own worth to the right wing. Yet this is a man described as Bush’s Brain. He helped launch two wars, run up a huge debt, and allow Katrina to destroy New Orleans. There is a large degree of satisfaction in seeing the rest of the world realize that he has never been clothed at all.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

It has been interesting to see the GOP turn away from anti- immigration sentiment over the past few days. That isn’t the whole problem, but it’s certainly part of the problem. Latinos- like Blacks, Jews, Asians, Gays, and Geeks- want inside more than just America’s borders. They want inside American civil society. That’s a harder thing to do.

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

Voter suppression has been basically invisible to those who neither planned it nor were targeted by it. The first stage of the American dream might well be being allowed to vote in a short line with a working machine. The “yes we can” battle cry of 2008 was in many ways a scream of defiance against those who tried to stop the vote.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

This may seem unrelated, but it isn’t. The same week that saw the election also saw the release of a game my father refers to as “ninjas fighting the American Revolution”. He’s not wrong (except that he’s wrong. :) ), but it’s worth noting that North American society has evolved to the point that Native American history and society is understood to be worth taking seriously. Who fought the revolution? In 2012, our pop culture has evolved to retroactively include a native American kid.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

Hour by hour, inch by inch, they waited in line and voted. They voted for a man who proclaimed that gay marriage was acceptable. They voted for a man who changed the way healthcare is delivered- so that everyone would be allowed to have it. And they voted to give themselves another chance to change their mind in several years.

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Earlier, I made a comment about geeks being part of the disenfranchised class. That feeling of being bullied, picked on, and otherwise Otherized is a huge part of the geek identity. Being a geek isn’t merely about being smart, but of having a sort of brain that just processes information differently. Over the past several decades, geeks have been finding a niche within the ecology of American society. Comments about “pointed headed academics” have been tossed around by the right for just as long. The intellectual infrastructure was therefore a preexisting condition when the election rolled around- and Nate Silver became the poster child for everything the American Right could convince themselves wasn’t true. He was right, and we geeks have also cracked the door to American acceptance.

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

If you click just one link:
An uninterrupted poem from this week’s co-author Langston Hughes